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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama Getty Images

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Jim Mora prefers using one QB, but not ready to anoint starter

Jim Mora

UCLA head coach Jim Mora faced plenty of questions about his quarterback situation at UCLA during Pac-12 media days, but he is far from prepared to settle on a starting quarterback for the start of the 2015 season. He must have been prepared for that given Brett Hundley left the Bruins a year early to enter the NFL Draft and Asiantii Woulard is hoping to be ruled eligible to play elsewhere this fall. The spring game yielded far too little confidence in any candidate to grab the starting nod months ahead of the season, so Mora is going to hold off on making any concrete decisions until he can get a better sense of who is ready to lead UCLA’s offense. One thing Mora does not plan to do is use multiple quarterbacks.

“I’d rather use one. I think that is the most beneficial way to build your team and consistency is to use one,” Mora said Friday during Pac-12 media day. “But we’ll see. My gut instinct is to name a guy and support the hell out of him. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

So, who will that be? The three quarterback race is down to Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul and freshman Josh Rosen. Despite the high expectations for Rosen, Mora is not getting caught up in the hype just yet.

“He hasn’t taken a snap at this level. So I don’t want to put too many expectations,” Mora suggested. “I’ll let others put expectations on them. I think if Josh reaches his potential every day at the end of his time at UCLA we’ll look back and say he was a success.”

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LSU reinstates three players, including QB Anthony Jennings

Anthony Jennings

LSU has reinstated three players just days before fall practices are scheduled to open in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Anthony Jennings, defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas will all be available to practice after being indefinitely suspended from the program.

LSU head coach Les Miles made the decision Friday afternoon with the indication the three players will undergo further in-house discipline. All three were suspended in response to an incident involving alleged unauthorized entry of an inhabited building. The alleged victim in that incident has since asked for the charges against the LSU football players to be dropped. That is exactly what has happened, allowing the door for Miles to welcome back all three, which he suspected might be the case.

No formal charges were filed against the three LSU players.

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Fitzgerald: Big Ten coaches voted unanimously against 9-game conference schedule

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In 2016 the Big Ten will expand its conference schedule from eight games to nine in a league-wide effort to enhance the overall strength of schedule for the conference. Apparently this is being done without approval from the 14 Big Ten head coaches.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald says, per Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports, the coaches in the Big Ten were unanimous in voting for an eight-game conference schedule.

This is certainly a reminder just who makes the big decisions in the Big Ten, and it sure is not the head coaches.

A nine-game conference schedule does help improve the conference’s overall schedule, but it also has its drawbacks as well. For starters, it allows for one fewer non-conference game on the schedule, which means less flexibility for scheduling options. On another hand, it also leads the Big Ten beating up on itself just a little more, potentially keeping a Big Ten member from reaching bowl eligibility.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 also use a nine-game conference schedule. The ACC and SEC remain firm on an eight-game conference schedule. The ACC, SEC and now the Big Ten all have a scheduling requirement to include a power conference opponent each season in addition to the conference schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 do not have such a scheduling requirement. The Big Ten will also eliminate FCS opponents from the non-conference schedule across the conference.

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Oregon State’s Gary Andersen says speed separates Pac-12 from Big Ten

Gary Andersen

Earlier in the day in Chicago new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was asked about the difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, to which the nicest coach in the world shrugged off the notion of the two conferences being too different. His replacement at Oregon State, former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, has a different take on the subject.

“Well, the speed,” Andersen replied when asked the same question at the Pac-12 media day event Friday. “If you want to talk about something that is different. This is without question, and I’m looking from afar through a TV screen or a big jumbo screen we have in the offices that we watch film from and on the TV.

“[T]his league has what we like to call juice,” Andersen explained. “It is fast. There are a lot of guys that make one mistake and you’re going to pay the price quickly. On the defensive side it is the same way. There are elite pass rushers that are fast and quick. There are linebackers that can run on the back end that I believe can make up for a lot of problems that — it’s hard to solve with a pen in your hand, but genetics take over and make you some special plays.”

Prior to taking the Wisconsin head coaching job in 2013, Andersen was the head coach of Utah State. During his tenure at Utah State he coached against one Pac-12 team, in which he emerged victorious over Utah in 2012.  In his two seasons with the Badgers in Madison, Anderson lost on the road against Arizona State (in bizarre fashion). So he does have some first-hand experience coaching against the Pac-12 to compare with his brief experience in the Big Ten (which did not end well). Andersen also thinks the Pac-12 lacks credit as a tough conference, physically.

“I never hear people talking about this league is tough-minded. I know it’s not the class, flashy thing to talk about, right, anyway, with the offensive and defensive lines,” Andersen said. “But the fact of the matter is they’re well coached. They’re tough kids. They play with leverage and play with great technique. That is something that jumped out on me on film because I look for that stuff.”

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USC coach Sarkisian takes jab at Oregon’s uniforms

Steve Sarkisian

You have to imagine that being tabbed the preseason media favorite has USC head coach Steve Sarkisian feeling a little extra confident this week. On Friday he may have allowed his confidence to go slightly far in taking a mild-tempered shot at the Oregon Ducks. More specifically, Sarkisian took aim at Oregon’s multiple uniform combinations.

This is just a guess he is not referring to Appalachian State and their 21 new uniform combinations for the 2015 season. No, this was a direct shot at the Oregon Ducks, who have made suiting up ina  different uniform every week something any school looking to generate buzz or gain an edge in recruiting seeks to emulate.

Sarkisian has yet to defeat the Ducks since being named a head coach in 2009 at Washington. In fact, he has not really come close. Since 2009, Sarkisian has lost to Oregon all six times by an average of 25.8 points per defeat. USC seems to have things going in the right direction, and the preseason media poll in the conference certainly gives the Trojans a little extra boost. But until Oregon is dethroned, USC has something to prove on the field.

USC still must get out of a tough Pac-12 South, which saw Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all hand USC a loss in conference play last season. USC will visit Oregon on November 21 this season, in what could potentially be a PAc-12 Championship Game preview. That game will be played two weeks later.

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Pac-12 not looking to expand, if you were curious

Larry Scott

If you had any hopes the Pac-12 might be looking to expand in the future, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has some bad news.

“I do not see us expanding in the foreseeable future,” Scott said Thursday during Pac-12 media days. “We are delighted with 12 schools. It’s worked exceedingly well for us.”

There has not been much discussion about the conference contemplating expansion projects to grow beyond the current 12-school membership. Much of the hypothetical expansion conversation has centered on the Big 12, with 10 members. So forget about resurrecting those Pac-16 scenarios if you were holding out hope for such a thing. This may also be somewhat discouraging news for BYU fans as well, although getting the Cougars and Utah back in the same room would be entertaining.

The Pac-12 rebranded itself following the 2011 additions of Colorado and Utah. That was the same season Nebraska joined the Big Ten and BYU went independent. Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC the following year as well. For now, the Pac-12 is just keeping the focus on improving from within, starting with conference scheduling.

“As a 12-team conference playing nine conference games, this is an interesting distinction between us and some other conferences,” Scott said. “This is why I’m confident standing up and saying no one has got a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champion has got the toughest road, because there aren’t many misses that you can have within your conference.”

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Ohio State obtains trademark for Urban Meyer’s name

Urban Meyer

When Ohio State hired Urban Meyer to be the next head coach of the Buckeyes in the final stretch of the 2011 season, the Buckeyes knew expectations would be high. Meyer guided Ohio State to an undefeated season in his first fall in Columbus, led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship game and Orange Bowl in year two and to a Big Ten title and national championship in year three. Naturally, Ohio State is out to assure Meyer’s contract is protected so he does not go anywhere, and now it is looking to protect his likeness.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday the university has obtained a trademark for the name “Urban Meyer” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Per the report, half of the royalties in trademark cases will go to the university and the other half will go to Meyer. Life is good for Meyer, even if he did have to suspend a few players for the 2015 season opener this week.

“It’s not uncommon for celebrities and people in the public to seek protection of their name and likeness,” said Rick Van Brimmer, director of trademark and licensing services at Ohio State. It is, however, the first time n Ohio State coach has had his name trademarked.

“Based on his celebrity status, there are people who have used it on product without permission and (we) have had to approach them,” he said. “This just affords us another level of legal protection.”

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BYU, UNLV to finish off home-and-home agreement in 2017

Brandon Baker, Nate Carter

College football scheduling can be difficult to juggle at times, but it seems BYU and UNLV are managing to find a landing spot for a game in 2017. The two schools will reportedly play at UNLV on November 11, 2017 to complete a previously arranged home-and-home series.

The game at UNLV was originally scheduled to be played this upcoming season, but the two agreed to push the game back to either 2016 or 2017 so BYU could work in a game this fall against Missouri. BYU will face the Mizzou Tigers in Kansas City on November 14, the original date for the BYU contest at UNLV.

BYU hosted UNLV in the first half of the home-and-home scheduling agreement. BYU won last season’s match-up by a score of 42-23.

As noted by FBSchedules.com, BYU’s 2017 schedule is now up to 11 opponents locked in, leaving room for one more to complete the schedule. The 2017 BYU schedule includes a season opener against LSU in Houston, a home date against old rival Utah and other games against Boise State, Mississippi State and Hawaii. With the Hawaii game coming on the road, BYU will be allowed to schedule a 13th game if so desired. BYU has two open weeks in the middle of September. With news breaking this morning the Big Ten will now recognize BYU as a power conference opponent to satisfy a new power conference scheduling requirement, could there be a Big Ten team to help fill the void? If so, that would give BYU games against three different power conferences in 2017.

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New Big Ten scheduling mandates Power 5 opponents, no FCS foes

Jim Delany

Starting in 2016 the Big Ten will roll out a new scheduling outline for all conference members to follow. In addition to the new nine-game conference schedule, the Big Ten will now officially lock out FCS opponents and ask members to schedule one game against another power conference opponent.

The Big Ten’s move away from no longer scheduling FCS opponents has been discussed openly for a few years now, and now it will be the standard operating procedure. What is slightly new is the mandated concept that one game per year against another power conference opponent will be required. The Big Ten joins the ACC and SEC in requiring its members to schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent.

Asked to clarify, Delany confirmed the outline is a requirement that must be met by each member university. What was left unanswered is whether or not independents like Notre Dame, BYU and Army meet that requirement. It is expected Notre Dame would satisfy the requirement, and the ACC and SEC recognize BYU as a power conference opponent. The SEC also counts Army in that category. (UPDATE: Delany later confirmed Notre Dame and BYU will count toward meeting the requirement.)

Delany stressed the focus on improving overall strength of schedule for the Big Ten, and this philosophy would seem to address that in the years to come. While many Big Ten teams already have games scheduled against other power five conferences, having it be a requirement offers more attractive games for fans and the all more important television partners. With the Big Ten media rights set to expire coming up, rolling out this scheduling strategy is also a wise business decision.

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Report: Alabama and Louisville opening 2018 in Orlando

Since the 1930s, Big Al, the Alabama Crimson Tide football team mascot has cheered the team to victo

Alabama may never again open a season at home. The Crimson Tide will reportedly open the 2018 season in Orlando, with Louisville lined up as the opponent for the season-opening contest. Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com was first to report the 2018 game via Twitter.

Alabama now has the next three season openers booked for neutral site games, which means plenty of money coming Alabama’s way. The Crimson Tide open this season in Arlington, Texas against Wisconsin and open the 2016 season in Arlington once more against USC. In 2017 Alabama will face Florida State in Atlanta. Alabama opened the 2013 and 2014 seasons in Atlanta against Virginia Tech and West Virginia, respectively. This followed a season-opening game in Arlington in 2012 against Michigan. The last time Alabama opened a season at home was in 2011 against Kent State. The 2009 season opened in Atlanta against the Hokies as well. Alabama is also contractually obligated to play a game in Arlington in either 2019 or 2020.

Louisville is also getting used to this neutral site opener idea. The Cardinals will open the 2015 season in Atlanta against Auburn, and will face Purdue in Indianapolis to open the 2017 season.

It should also be noted the scheduling of this game in Orlando will also satisfy the non-conference scheduling requirement for both schools, with the ACC and SEC each requiring members to schedule one game against a power conference opponent. Of course, Louisville already satisfies its requirement by playing Kentucky.

Alabama and Louisville have faced each other just three times before, with the most recent game taking place in the 1991 Fiesta Bowl. Louisville won that game, 34-7, but Alabama had won the two previous meetings in 1976 and 1977 with blowout victories (winning by a combined score of 79-9).

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Nice guy Mike Riley says differences between Big Ten and Pac-12 not as drastic as before

Mike Riley

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley made his Big Ten media day debut in Chicago Friday morning, and he carried his nice guy persona as well as he ever has. When told he was one of the nicest coaches in the Pac-12, Riley shrugged aside as humble as he could. Riley was also asked about the differences between the Big Ten and Pac-12, to which he said the differences are not nearly as extreme as they used to be in decades past.

“Hard to blanket with one statement what a conference is today,” Riley said when asked about the difference between the styles of the Big Ten and Pac-12. “I think statistically the Big Ten is running the football more, but there is more diversity.”

Riley, of course, comes to Nebraska after coaching at Oregon State for the past 15 seasons. Riley took over the Beavers in 1997 and stayed with the program until taking a chance to take the Nebraska job. When asked about the timing of the new job, Riley said he and his wife agreed it was their last real chance to take a new challenge and adventure.

“We just love our life together, our life in football.”

Riley won over the Big Ten media, and it would appear the Cornhuskers are in good hands. Now we just have to see if he can win some games in Lincoln.

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Minnesota’s Jerry Kill says he’s been seizure-free for over a year

Jerry Kill

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill got the second day of Big Ten media days off and running Friday morning in Chicago, and he has plenty to be optimistic about in the coming season with a team ready to make a push for the Big Ten West division crown. Kill said his Gophers are getting faster and are closing in on being on par for giving Wisconsin a run for the division crown, and he is very high on his defensive secondary, which could be the best Minnesota has had since Kill’s arrival. But Kill will always be faced with a question about his health, and Friday morning was no different.

“I’m doing great,” Kill said when asked about his health. Kill said it has been over a year and a half since he has suffered a seizure.

Kill has a history of suffering seizures while coaching his team in recent years, although he has said time and time again it is nothing that is to be considered life-threatening or dangerous to his long-term health. In 2012 Kill suffered a seizure following a loss to Northwestern. The following season Kill was given medical treatment and did not return the second half of a game against Western Illinois. He would coach from the press box later in the 2013 season while spending time focusing on treatment and better manage his epilepsy but returned to the sideline during Minnesota’s bowl game and was on the sideline for the 2014 season.

Minnesota opens the 2014 season at home against TCU, the No. 2 team in the country according to the preseason coaches poll.

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No name games for Jim Harbaugh. Ohio State is “Ohio State” for Michigan coach

Jim Harbaugh

Perhaps the most anticipated media day press conference on this year’s media day calendar was the introduction of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh at Big Ten media day in Chicago. Today, the second of the two-day Big Ten media event, Harbaugh met with the media. The first question lobbed his way by one of the members of the media was about how he will refer to Ohio State, given the previous history between the two schools refusing to acknowledge the other by name.

“Ohio State is just Ohio State,” Harbaugh responded, before saying how great it was to see everyone in the room.

Harbaugh is a bit of a no-nonsense guy when it comes to his coaching style, so his decision to not get caught up in gimmicks to ramp up the rivalry is no real surprise. His predecessor, Brady Hoke, referred to Ohio State as just Ohio and that never really proved to amount to much. Meanwhile, Harbaugh’s counterpart in Columbus (Urban Meyer), likes to refer to Michigan as “That team up north.” It works for some, does not work for others.

Harbaugh’s simple answer though suggests Harbaugh has other things to worry about in getting Michigan turned around. He will also have 11 games to focus on before setting sights on Ohio State. Harbaugh will buy into the rivalry more, and likely will treat it much differently behind closed doors with the team when the time comes. But for now, Harbaugh has work to do.

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Backup DE Melvin Keihn requests release from Hokies

Virginia v Virginia Tech Getty Images

Ohio State’s not the only half of the OSU-Virginia Tech opener going through personnel attrition Thursday, although Tech’s is a permanent type — albeit much less damaging, potentially.

According to the Roanoke Times, a school spokesperson confirmed that Melvin Keihn (pictured, No. 51) has requested a release from his Tech scholarship and will pursue a transfer.  The defensive end is no longer listed on the Hokies’ online roster.

Keihn was a four-star member of Tech’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 16 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Maryland; and the No. 226 player overall according to Rivals.com.  As a true freshman Keihn played in 13 games, with most of that action coming on special teams.

After spending most of spring practice as a No. 2 end, he had reps taking away and perhaps felt himself slipping down the depth chart, which perhaps triggered the decision to move on.

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‘Off-field issues’ lead to 2015 Vols signee leaving program

Kyle Oliver

While we had one 2015 signee (unofficially) joining a new Power Five football program Thursday, we have another (unofficially) departing one.

GoVols247.com is reporting that Kyle Oliver is leaving the Vols football team and will transfer to another, undetermined program. Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, Oliver “is leaving… because of unspecified off-field issues.”

On what may or may not be a related note to those unspecified off-field issues, UT lineman Charles Mosley was arrested earlier this month and charged with first-offense driving under the influence and speeding.  From a member of the UT beat, via Twitter:

UT has yet to address Oliver’s status with the football team, which will open up its third summer camp under Butch Jones next week.

The 6-4, 226-pound Oliver was a three-star member of UT’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 17 tight end in the country and the No. 14 player at any position in the state of Tennessee.  He also becomes the second member of the Class of 2015 to leave Knoxville in less than a week, joining wide receiver Jocquez Bruce.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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